Social structure and habitat design affect the impact of a novel feeding enrichment for alligators
Year of Publication:
|Marisa Spain, Cayle Pearson, Adam E Rosenblatt
|alligator, animal welfare, enrichment, zoo
Providing enrichment that expands the range of behavioral opportunities associated with food acquisition and environmental exploration is an important contributing factor to the well-being of zoo animals. These behaviors can be difficult to promote in carnivores, given their foraging strategies and the logistical, ethical, and financial challenges of providing live prey. In this study, we introduced a novel feeding enrichment to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ five adult American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in an attempt to simulate a live prey organism within the exhibit and promote natural hunting behaviors like chasing and lunging, as well as increase daily activity levels. The enrichment promoted some behavioral goals for two of the alligators, but it did not promote behavioral goals for the other three alligators. This could have been due to a variety of factors including an existing dominance hierarchy amongst the group’s females and the resulting spatial distribution of individuals across a habitat with only one water feature. Our results suggest that female alligators may carve out territories and avoid overlapping space usage with other females during the warmest months of the year. Given the outcomes and limitations of this enrichment strategy, we provide recommendations for this group specifically as well as future enrichment efforts in the general captive crocodilian population.